Many organizations have been experimenting with IoT, but there are a few use cases that potentially offer a lot of value for the enterprise. Here's a look at some of the most successful applications of this technology.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

November 1, 2021

6 Min Read
Prasit Rodphan via Alamy

Many companies are just dipping their toe into the pool of IoT, but others have already established powerful use cases with big payoffs. These payoff use cases are varied. They range from facilities and Internet monitoring to smart manufacturing, telemedicine, and traffic control.

What are some of the early IoT "killer apps," why do they work, and what can we learn from them?

Fleet management

A decade ago, truck drivers drove long hours, faced safety hazards, and fleet managers had little direct knowledge about road and weather conditions, or even where their trucks were at any given point of time.

Then in 2015, federal legislation was proposed that would do something about long driving hours and on-the-road record keeping. Finalized in 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule now requires motor carriers and truck logistics companies to equip their trucks with ELD technology that automatically records a driver’s driving time (now limited to 12 hours/day), and that monitors each truck’s engine to capture data on whether the engine is running, whether the vehicle is moving, miles driven, and duration of engine operation.

The legislation gave greater visibility to fleet managers about how their trucks and drivers were performing. It enabled logistics companies to coach drivers who needed to improve their safety and fuel consumption habits. Logistics operators then built on these bedrock capabilities, adding artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically calculate the most efficient travel route for each truck, based upon real time locational road repair, road congestion and weather condition information.

Why this worked:

The prime force behind adoption was federal mandate and regulation. Fleet managers had to conform to new laws and outlay the money required for ELD -- but what they also saw was a new tier of IoT capabilities beyond ELD that could help them further modernize their logistics operations and arrive at destinations faster, safer, at less cost, and with reduced environmental impact.

Smart city public transportation

Cities placed IoT sensors on municipal trams to track tram movements, but also to track the health of tram system assets such as engines, or even sections of tram track. The sensor-enabled health monitoring in the field saves time and physical inspections from maintenance crews that formerly were necessary. It also reduces system outages and expensive on-the-spot repairs that get tram travelers upset with delays.

The IoT sensors perform predictive maintenance by identifying tram system assets such as engines or pieces of track that are likely to fail soon. The advance notice provides repair crews with ample time to repair or replace these assets before they fail. The result is that the system stays up and running and tram travelers stay happy.

Why this worked:

Cities saved considerable time and money in their maintenance operations, and improved uptime performance. They then leveraged the visibility that they had gained into the transportation system by offering the same visibility to citizen-taxpayers who depended upon public transportation.

A traveler who regularly took the tram to work could receive automatic alerts from the system on his iPhone or Android and check to see if his particular route was on time that day.

If a tram route was delayed, alternate routes were sent to the traveler that would still get him to his destination.

Drone flights into hazardous zones

Organizations that perform remote mining, surveying, construction, wildfire control, rescue operations and military missions wanted to eliminate the need for personnel to enter uncharted, hazardous areas.

These organizations began using drones that provided real time video streams of landscapes, with photos of areas of interest. The move to drones eliminated the need for on-the-ground personnel, saved time and money, and reduced risk.

Why this worked:

Drones fulfilled a mission that their human operators couldn’t. They were able to penetrate inaccessible and dangerous areas to perform work and to conduct surveillance. When there were safety and accessibility concerns coupled with time constraints, this was an excellent approach.

Organizations initially implementing drones for surveillance then expanded their drone use cases. Surveyors, oil and gas and mining companies used drones for mapping. Rescue operations deployed drones to deliver supplies. The military transformed drones from surveillance to executing missions.

Lessons learned

The truck fleet, smart city, and drone IoT projects are highly diverse, but they share several best practices. The following is what can be learned from them:

Identify a payoff business use case

The IoT uses cases that work best are those that return immediate cost savings, revenue increases, and other important benefits such as safety, speed of operation, and regulatory compliance. There is a sense of mission in these projects, and no one in the organization is scratching his head, wondering why the projects are being pursued.

A sense of urgency helps

When you’ve got a non-negotiable regulatory timetable to meet, or you're faced with obstacles that are generating enormous costs and delaying profits, there is an immediate sense of urgency that fuels an IoT project. The trucking industry, smart city transportation systems, and companies with remote field operations all faced these urgent challenges, and used IoT to address them.

Metrics confirmed the value of the projects

Great IoT projects produce measurable and beneficial results.

Fleets routed goods to designations faster and reported fewer on-the-road accidents. They saved money because driver habits and their impact on fuel consumption began to be tracked. IoT sensors were able to detect and predict parts failures in vehicles before they happened. This enabled companies to proactively service trucks and keep more trucks on the road.

Smart cities also avoided expensive repairs and delays by using IoT predictive maintenance on tram systems. Repair crews no longer had to regularly perform in-person physical inspections. This generated time and cost savings. Just as importantly, the taxpayer--commuters who used public transportation gained their own window into the system. At any given time of day, commuters could check the real time status of their routes.

Finally, organizations with the need to perform field operations in remote and hazardous areas now had drones to do the job for them. The drones eliminated the need for boots-on-the-ground field crews, and got work done faster.

Build a business case that you can expand upon

Successful IoT deployments provide a foundation for new IoT work that can be leveraged from them.

Fleets moved from monitoring trucks and drivers to implementing AI for purposes of optimizing truck routes for fastest speeds to market.

Cities used IoT for predictive maintenance and mitigation and followed this with opening the public transportation window to commuters, who could also see in real time how routes were running.

For surveyors, mining, oil and gas, construction, rescue operations and the military, drones began with surveillance and observation and evolved into mapping, delivering supplies, and flying missions.

What to read next:

CIO Agenda: Cloud, Cybersecurity, and AI Investments Ahead

What Enterprises Can Learn from Digital Disruption

How IT Organizations Are Using Automation

Making the Business Case for Edge Computing

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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